Complacency Is Your Enemy

Sleeping Puppy by Richard Stowey

Don't get too comfortable - there's always room for improvement.

My philosophy in life has always been one of optimism. The bedrock of this optimism is largely a well-developed sense of appreciation of everything I have. I understand that life is fleeting and that I am beyond fortunate not only to live in a developed, first-world nation where something like access to clean drinking water is a given let alone the fact that I’m alive at all.

This sense of gratefulness is like a search lamp, the brilliant beam of which I can shine on my problems to view them in a proper light – a light that reveals how petty it really is for me to bothered by most misfortunes. Unfortunately, the brighter the light the darker the shadow it casts and that sense of appreciation is no different. That dark shadow is complacency.

Complacency is the direct nemesis of ambition. Unfortunately, it seems now so many people who advocate being grateful and not taking what you have for granted also push its poisonous side-effect as if it were an added virtue.

I’ve heard it a million times, “Why worry about working so hard for more? You should be grateful for what you have.” or maybe “Don’t be greedy, be happy where you are with what you’ve got.”

On the surface, this kind of sounds like good advice. Half of it is. You should be happy with what you’ve got and not take it for granted. You also shouldn’t let it bother you too much if you don’t have something you want.

The problem is, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try to get it.

Let’s say you’re stuck in a dead end job that makes you miserable. Those people would tell you you’re selfish for wanting more than that and should just accept it and be happy. That is ridiculous. Taking that advice and embracing complacency won’t make you happy and will just leave you with a mountain of regrets on your deathbed. Not a good idea.

I say that yes, you should be grateful even for your dead end job and you shouldn’t let it destroy your mood. However, and this is the key part, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your situation. It just means that while you try to improve your situation you shouldn’t allow the current one to bother you so much.

You should always, always be trying to improve some area of your life. I’ve said this several times before and it’s not going to be the last time you hear it from me, but the truth is none of us have very long to live. You shouldn’t just be happy for every moment you get, you should also be trying to make the next one even better.

In the end, it comes down to finding the right balance. If you’re not grateful enough, you can burn away your whole life always trying to get and do more and never have actually had the chance to enjoy any of it. If you’re too complacent, you can settle into a life that ultimately will never make you as happy as it could have. Either way your short flash of existence is squandered and that is a tragedy in the strongest sense of the word.

It’s like the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That suggests you should just take what life gives you. You should take what life gives you but you should also add some work to it to make what life gives you even better. I say, “When life gives you lemons, go to the store and buy some sugar and vodka and sell that lemonade so you can go get something you actually want.”

Of course, my version doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well…

Have anything to add to my mild rant about complacency? Let us know!

5 Reasons to Never Follow Your Dreams

Prison Cell by Still Burning

Life should be safe and cozy - like a prison cell.

Let’s face it – life is scary. You have to wake up every morning and actually do stuff. There’s a lot of pressure there. You have to go out and slave away at your job everyday for money as the ticking of the clock beckons you gradually closer to the grave. It’s really kind of a bummer.

That’s why I say, don’t even worry about working that hard. The fact is, it’s not going to matter in the end. The best course of action is to just stay in whatever mind-numbing career you find yourself in now. Anything else would be too risky.

To help everyone realize how stupid it really would be to ever take a chance on anything, I’ve compiled this list of five really good reasons you should never quit you day job (or do anything else worthwhile).

  • Job Security – Being left without any real source of income, particularly when you have a family to provide for, is a really frightening prospect. Why would you want to fight and work hard for self-sufficiency and multiple streams of income when you can just settle into your nice secure career. As we all know, once you’re working for a company you’re stuck there – there’s no way anything could ever happen that would result in you losing your job for reasons beyond your control. With the economy so stable right now, there’s no reason to ever fear losing your job. It’s the perfect opportunity to put all the eggs you have into one safe, secure basket. Why be risky and chase your dreams, when you can take the safe route and crush them like everyone else.
  • Fulfillment – Fulfillment. It’s really, really overrated. You don’t need to feel fulfilled. You just need to think you feel fulfilled. Now, I hate to say it but your average 9 to 5 isn’t going to help you out any here. It’s soul-crushing nature is the whole reason you think you crave fulfillment anyway. No, the way to really fake fulfillment and be able to keep your job and pretend you’re really happy with life lies in one secret technique – video games. Pursuing genuine fulfillment is for suckers. Learning an instrument, traveling, bettering yourself? Come on. That takes work. Why would you want to do that when you can get a cheap proxy for that very same feeling by teaching your Sims to play piano, or raiding that new instance in WoW. If you need a little more, you can get fulfillment beamed right into your head by staring blankly at the television. This way, you can feel really proud about your accomplishments without ever having to actually accomplish anything at all!
  • Fitness – It’s for suckers! With the state of modern medicine, it will be no problem for them to keep you going in thirty or forty years when your heart finally gives out. They may even have the ability to replace it with machine parts by that point. Cyborgs! Yay! On top of that, what kind of moron really chooses to delay gratification? Sure, they’re pretty much guaranteed more satisfaction by eschewing the instant pleasures for the later ones, but what’s a guarantee anyway? Who wants to suffer now just to maybe live a decade or two longer? It may take a few years off your life, but having the pleasure of eating Big Macs everynight for a week straight is a small price to pay.
  • Consumerism – We all know that the real key to living a good life, aside from gorging yourself with fast food while playing videogames in your underpants all day, is to have lots and lots and lots of stuff. You need to have more stuff than your friends, you need to have more stuff than your family, you need to have more stuff than everybody. You need to have better stuff too. All that minimalism garbage everybody keeps talking about is just because they know they’re too poor to get as much stuff as you. Look at how happy all those people on Hoarders are. One or two may get buried in stuff-volanche from time to time, but that’s the price you pay for success. If you’re not buying shiny new stuff to push yourself into more debt everyday, well then you’re just a failure.
  • Freedom – People talk a lot about being free. The problem is, they don’t really know what being free means. They think it means being able to go where you want, and do what you want, whenever you feel like it. That’s not freedom! Real freedom comes when you have a whole bunch of stuff tying you to one place. Real freedom is having the choice whether to take your two weeks of vacation together, or separate. Real freedom is being able to choose whether to pay your mortgage on the due date, or before the due date. When you’re chained to a single job and anchored by the massive debt of a house that was way beyond what you can really afford buyoed by a nice cushion of credit cards, then you know what freedom is.

    So there you have it. Don’t chase your dreams, fill your life with faux-fulfillment from frequent TV watching and constant hours playing video games, leave fitness to the gym rats and bury yourself in a nice, safe burrow of debt lined with as many useless possessions as are necessary to make you feel more important than everyone else you know. That’s the real path to happiness.

Why You Should Be Grateful

Empty Bowl Project by Carabou

Don't take what you have for granted, it might not always be there.

I wholeheartedly believe that one of the best things that you can do to improve your quality of life is to learn to be grateful and appreciative.

We’ve talked about ways to improve your quality of life before, and touched on gratefulness there, but it deserves its own article.

Having a strong sense of gratefulness or appreciation is extremely important in developing an overall sense of well-being and happiness in life. All too often people find themselves losing sight of what’s really important, growing unhappy with their situation and becoming upset over everything.

Learning to be grateful helps solve all of these problems. Understanding how lucky you are to have the things that you do have often puts into perspective how inconsequential it is when you don’t get the things you want. Gratefulness lets us look at a bad situation which might otherwise really upset us and say, “You know, I’m gonna let it go. It’s really no big deal.”

Next time something bad happens to you, stop and think of the millions of people who probably are substantially worse off than you. If you’re reading this then you have electricity, an Internet connection and, presumably by extension, some money. There are countless people with none of those luxuries

Having a well-developed sense of appreciation for what you do have also keeps you from listing towards the whirlpools of consumerism. When you appreciate what you have, minimalism comes naturally and it’s easy to determine what you really do and don’t need.

The most important thing to remember is that as long as you’re still alive, it could be worse – you could be dead.

It’s optimistic to assume you’re going to get a full 100 years. You may not even get the 80 or so that citizens of most industrialized nations have come to expect. Given that fact, does it really make sense to let the bad things bother you when you could spend them being happy about what you’ve got? You have to take care to avoid complacency, which is another article in itself, but if you’ve got such a short time why spend it upset and unhappy?

Putting It Into Practice

So how do you develop a sense of gratefulness if it’s something you’re currently lacking? The first way would be to work on your sense of empathy and of objectively looking at the consequences of a situation. When something bad happens, step back for a second and think of how that compares to the suffering of people who are in genuinely life-threatening situations on a daily basis.

Consider the fact that there is an unending number of people who have died as children. Not to depress anyone, but when you compare to people who never had the chance to live long enough to have a job, let alone be fired from one, it seems kind of petty to be whiny and upset about it.

Another good way to develop a true appreciation for something is to lose it. Try going for a weekend being as minimalist as possible. Empty your fridge and flip the circuit breaker off for a day or two (though if your house has one, you may want to leave the switch to the sump pump on). Nothing will make you feel as thankful as going without running water for any appreciable amount of time.

Of course, if you’re going to try a minimalism experiment to see just how much you take things for granted, do use your head about it and don’t do anything that’s going to hurt anybody

Any thoughts on being more grateful, or good ways to learn to appreciate the things you’ve got and not take them for granted?

Maximizing Efficiency the 80/20 Way

Golden Section Ratio by Patrick Hoesly

No complex math is needed to put the 80/20 principle to good use, just a bit of forethought.

If you’re familiar with anyone involved in the realm of Lifestyle Design (See our Recommended Reading list), I’m sure you’ve come across the Pareto principle before. For anyone who hasn’t, the Pareto principle (a.k.a. the 80/20 rule) essentially states that in almost every situation 80% of the effects are a result of 20% of the causes.

For example, 80% of profits come from 20% of customers, 80% of problems are caused by 20% of clients, 80% of the weight you lose is a result of 20% of your behavioral changes, etc.

Of course, actual ratios are rarely so consistent. It may be 95/5, 70/30, or whatever. The consistent part, the part that’s important to take away, is that in every case a majority of effects are brought about by a minority of causes.

So, why is this important?

It’s important because it means that, in general, there are two types of actions – those which fall into that 20% that cause 80% of the results, and those that fall into the 80% that are only responsible for that last little 20% of results. I call the first, the 20% with the big effect, High Return Variables and the latter, the majority responsible for that paltry 20%, Low Return Variables.

The 80/20 Rule in Practice: Examples of High and Low Return Variables

The two easiest real-world examples of this principle that come to mind are weight loss, and language learning. Alright, that may be because I’m right in the middle of a weight loss challenge and a language learning challenge, but still.

Weight Loss – Losing weight is, at its very essence, a chemical process. More calories need to be burned than ingested and insulin levels need to be kept low enough to keep the body in a state conducive to fat loss and muscle building. While exercise is important for this, being mindful of what goes into your body is even more so. The person who exercises obsessively but eats a diet of junk will not lose nearly as much weight as the person who barely exercises, or even never exercises, but has a carefully controlled diet.

Language Learning – You can never learn a language just by studying, you have to get out there and use it, but you can roughly break language down into two components – grammar and lexicon. Grammar is learned, really learned, by chatting with people and getting corrected. Lexicon, by coming across new words or actively picking new words to learn.

In both grammar and lexicon, there are High Return Variables and Low Return Variables based on frequency of use. Frequency lists show that 80% of dialog is composed with 20% of available lexical items. That means that to understand 80% of what’s being said, you only need to know 20% of the words in the language. The same goes for grammar. Certain grammatical points will come up time and time again and be extremely useful, while others almost never get used. The person who focuses on the stuff that comes up the most often will get a lot farther a lot faster than the person who doesn’t.

Making the 80/20 Rule Work for You

In those two examples the individual who focuses their efforts on diet first and the individual who focuses their learning on the most common lexical and grammatical items first will show much more progress much more rapidly than individuals who waste their time on less important variables. The key then, in any endeavor, is to spend some time at the outset to determine which variables are the High Return Variables and which are not. Once this is determined, you can make them your primary focus. Work smarter not harder and all that.

So how do you determine what variables are High Return Variables? Well, that’s the somewhat tricky part because it will depend for each different goal or activity you’re applying it to. The best way to figure it out is to start by dropping any ‘I have to do this or that’ mentalities. Those will get you nowhere and the key here isn’t to just do it the way everyone else does, it’s to do it the most efficient way possible.

Once you’ve dropped any preconceptions on how something ‘has to’ be done, go through and dissect all the different variables/actions you can take to reach your goal. First, cut everything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Be brutal here and treat each action like it’s a lead weight on a sinking boat, if it doesn’t really need to be there – toss it. Also remove everything that doesn’t have some kind of directly measurable effect. This will come in handy in the next step, and if there’s no way to measure the effect of an action there’s no real way to evaluate it.

After you’ve dumped all the superfluous actions, go through those that you’ve kept and rank each of them according to how big of an effect they have based on whatever metric applies to them. Sometimes, you may not really know. That’s fine, in that case do a little testing of everything first. Other times you may just have to work through the possible benefits in your head of each action. You may not know for sure a website will get you more customers than business cards, but it’s easy to reason that a website has more potential than business cards, so you would rank getting a website higher than having business cards printed.

Now that you have a ranked list of all the actions to take, in order of highest magnitude to lowest magnitude of effect, get started. You don’t necessarily have to follow the list point by point, but you’ll do much better using it as a tool to focus your attention on what is actually going to matter.

Have any other suggestions for ways to use the 80/20 principle? Let us know.

Defining ‘Epic’

Mountain Scenery by Zebble

You don't have to climb Mt. Everest in order to be epic.

Since this site is devoted to becoming ‘epic’, it stands to reason that defining what we mean by ‘epic’ would probably be a good place to start.

The popular definition of what constitutes ‘epic’ varies considerably, and not of all of the definitions are necessarily positive (epic fails come to mind as a good example). I think what best sums up the popular definition of ‘epic’ would be ‘performed in a way that is impressively great, noteworthy, unique or to an extent well exceeding what would normally be expected.’

That definition is well and good for a lot of things, but it doesn’t quite fit what we’re talking about. Sure, it’s a good measure by which to judge if an action is epic, but we’re looking more for a definition that describes how a person could be defined as epic.

We also like to add one extra criterion – personal improvement. While this may not fit into the strict definition of epic, this is our definition, so we’ll add whatever we like. We think constantly striving for personal improvement is one of the higher goals of life. That means that every epic action should be one that makes you a better person in some way. That also means that epic actions aren’t about being better than someone else, it’s about being better than you were before.

When applied to a person, the term ‘epic’ really serves more to describe actions rather than general qualities. It’s not that an epic person is qualitatively different from any other person, what makes them epic is that they do epic things.

If an epic person is defined by their actions being epic, than logically they must continue to do epic things to continue to be epic. Since the net total of all of a person’s actions comprise their lifestyle, an epic person has to have an epic lifestyle. By that we mean a lifestyle that leaves them unrestricted to continue doing epic things.

So, here’s our finished definition for an epic person:
Epic Person(n) An individual who possesses and fully utilizes a lifestyle which enables them to continually perform actions and achieve goals which are noteworthy, interesting, improve that person’s life in some way and are well beyond what would be expected of an average person (regardless of whether or not the average person is capable of them).

I kind of feel like this just scratches the surface, but it will do for the time being. Do you have anything else to add? Let us know in the comments.

Page 5 of 512345